As Columbia prepares to host one of its biggest weekends ever to watch an event that’s happening 238,900 million miles away, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that people are coming from as far as 8,000 miles to see it.
Visitors from at least 32 states and eight countries will be joining the hometown Columbia crowd at some of the more than 120 eclipse events scheduled the weekend before the Aug. 21 solar eclipse. Columbia is considered one of the best places to see the eclipse along the East Coast, with 2 minutes and 30 seconds of totality.
Several of the biggest events have sold out, with many of the tickets purchased by out-of-staters.
Merritt McNeely, marketing director for the S.C. State Museum and founder of the Total Eclipse Weekend Columbia, S.C. campaign, said early marketing to lure tourists to the capital city is reaping results. Tickets to the now-sold-out viewing day event have gone to people from 23 states and Washington D.C., as well as to international travelers from eight countries, including Hong Kong.
“We knew years ago that people would travel to see the eclipse,” McNeely said. “We wanted to harness this opportunity, get out in front and say, ‘Columbia is the best place to see this’.”
The S.C. State Museum and others are scheduling eclipse events all weekend, making it a four-day event. The museum’s events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday are still available, but they are expecting big crowds.
Historic Columbia, too, has events planned throughout the weekend, from Main Street and Vista walking tours to a happy hour balloon battle and more. Its viewing day event is sold out.
“Historic Eclipse in the Gardens will be one of the most geographically diverse events we’ve ever hosted with folks coming from across the country – from Maine to California,” said Robin Waites, executive director of Historic Columbia. “We even have visitors traveling from as far as Israel and the Dominican Republic.”
Fifty-five percent of visitors who bought tickets to Historic Eclipse in the Gardens are from outside of South Carolina, coming from 16 states and two countries.
The Columbia Fireflies baseball team will be playing a game during the eclipse, and only standing-room tickets remain.
“We’re fielding calls from people all over the place daily,” said Abby Naas, vice president of marketing and public relations for the Fireflies. The team has sold tickets to visitors from at least 32 states, including Washington, Montana and North Dakota.
Historic Columbia Speedway, which is hosting a Soda City Eclipse Viewing Festival, has sold almost 2,000 tickets and expects a crowd of at least 5,000.
John Banks, manager of the West Columbia speedway, said 78 percent of tickets sold so far are to people from 29 states, in addition to South Carolina. Oregon, California and Washington are among them.
“We get about 8-10 calls a day asking questions about (the Soda City Eclipse Viewing Festival),” Banks said. “They’re extremely excited about it. A line a lot of them say is, ‘I hope I don’t see you,’ because they hope it’s that dark.”
Experience Columbia SC, the local visitor’s center, has been fielding calls from potential out-of-state and international tourists planning trips to watch the eclipse.
“It’s an opportunity for our community to welcome first-time visitors to the region,” said Andrea Mensink, director of communications for Experience Columbia SC. “We want to roll out the welcome mat and show them how great of a community we have.”
With first-time visitors from all over the world, Columbia area businesses are hoping to exude a hospitality that will bring them back.
“It’s going to be an incredible boon for this city,” Banks said. “It’s a great opportunity for our city to show itself off.”
Tell us songs on your total eclipse music playlist
The total solar eclipse is almost here – and that means we’re thinking about music to pair with this big moment in history.
What songs would be on your eclipse playlist? Email your music eclipse playlist suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and the town where you live.
The deadline is THURSDAY, AUGUST 10. We’ll share the list of reader favorites at thestate.com/gocolumbia before the big day on Monday, Aug. 21.